Deep Thought Thursday: The price of viewing a masterpiece

The Portland Art Museum plans to charge $17 for visitors to see a single painting this fall: La Velata by Raphael, which will be on loan from the Palatine Gallery in Florence.

That’s not $17 admission to the Museum. That’s $17 in addition to whatever else you choose to see while you’re there. Children under 17 and all school tours will be free. The Museum will also provide a free evening.

Is $17 a fair price to see this single painting by Raphael?

(I’ll try to follow up this post with the pros and cons of such a move, so talk to me . . . )

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39 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: The price of viewing a masterpiece”

  1. Nope, when there are many other great museums – like the Clark in MA and the Farnsworth ME, where entrance fee is a lot less and I can spend half a day there looking at great art… why would I spend $17 to look at a single painting?

    Personally, I want and get more viewing for my money.

  2. Now if there was a lecture and an exhibit about the context of the painting, maybe a little wine and cheese… But seriously $17 for a single painting? Cheaper than a trip to Florence, however. Wouldn’t a donation bowl with a suggested amount stating the cost of bringing the painting to Portland or a sponsorship be more appropriate?

  3. In my considered opinion, this is nuts. It only helps convey the notion that art is an elitist conceit.

  4. My first reaction is that I would not pay the additional fee primarily for financial reasons. Upon further reflection, I wonder what the $17 would get me? Would I be able to see the painting at a set time with a limited number of other people (meaning I might actually be able to get up close and really look at it without waiting forever or viewing around other heads?) Are there any additional educational materials available? Things like this might make me reconsider. I can only begin to imagine how much it cost to get this painting on loan, transport it, insure it, security for the exhibit, etc., and in these tough times that expense is being passed on to those who want to take a look at it. I wonder if they tried to get a sponsor and weren’t able to due to the economy.

    That said, I hate that this is happening. It is going to put this work of art out of view for many people. If the trend continues, then viewing actual works of art becomes available to those who have the money for it. Many who enjoy and appreciate viewing art will be left out. But what are other options available to the museum to pay for this? Do they stop taking works on loan, putting them out of view for even more people?

    It seems I have more questions than answers!

    Alyson, I look forward to your thoughts on this, because I believe it will become more common.

  5. Rodney - The Mosaic Husband

    Art is supposed to be for the masses. I believe charging a price like this to see one painting supports a classist society where those with money can be exposed to culture and those without cannot. I support entry fees and admissions to whole exhibits but a price for just one painting is going too far.

  6. I would pay $17 for a truly spectacular work by an artist, something like Velazquez’ “Las Meninas”, which I viewed in person at the Prado as a teenager for free but I would pay to see it again in full scale. This painting while important doesn’t rise to that level in my opinion; it should be able to be viewed by all museum goers as part of their normal admission charge.

  7. It’s a steep price, but I’d pay to see it. I think it’s one of the most beautiful paintings I’ve ever seen and I’d love to see it in person. I would like to know I could spend time with it – that I wouldn’t be pushed along by others in line behind me.

    For those who are complaining that the price puts a work of art out of view for many people, it would be even further out of view in Italy. They could have left it there no-one would have to worry about their $17.00. It would cost me a lot more than $17.00 to see it, as it’s not coming to my museum. 🙁

  8. no, but…

    In the 19th cent, Frederick Church used a similar model, charging admission to see his blockbuster large landscapes. If I recall correctly, the lines were out the door, and he made a fortune. I’d love to know what his admission fee was, adjusted for today’s $$

  9. I just saw a fabulous exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for $8 in addition to the cost of entry. Rivals in Renaissance Venice had several rooms full of magnificent pantings by Veronese, Tinroretto and Titian.
    $17 sounds like gouging to me.
    Very sad. Phil Koch’s comment re:”elitist artists” resonates.

  10. I understand that they are trying to bring up revenue, but I wouldn’t do it. I would, however, be willing to pay an extra $17 to hear a lecture and view the painting or to have a social tea with sandwiches while viewing the painting.

  11. How interesting. I wonder what the thought is behind this. There must be more to it, as Gladys suggests.
    Alyson, I’m anxious to hear what you have to share!

  12. I think this conversation might be a little more appropriate after some go to the show, pay the $17 dollars, & then come back & comment…
    It reminds me of the weird conversations people were having about The Last Temptation of Christ, but they hadn’t seen it…
    Maybe it’s worth it? Maybe not…But for a lousy $17 bucks, if it was in my city I’d go…It’s not like 17 dollars is going to change my life sitting in my pocket…
    & hey, maybe I’m gonna charge 17 dollars to show just one painting too…why not? I’m tired of it all being for free on the internet…

  13. Just having been in Chicago, I had a similar shock when I saw the Art Institute is now $18 entry. (in fact my parents and I made a special trip downtown then didn’t go in) No more free day either. While the new wing is no doubt gorgeous I think the modern collection is probably fairly represented by museums I’ve been to already (like the Tate Modern).

    Here in London all the museums are now free. Special exhibitions are charged. While the galleries and museums were in a bit of uproar about it the result is more visitors and spending (in the shops, for example).

    A masterpiece shouldn’t be available for viewing only by the elite.

  14. As my kids say,”They must be on crack.” I would prefer to buy an art book that could go home with me. Our museum’s free afternoon was cancelled last spring also.

  15. Is the museum making public the reason for this charge? I think it is very high and if it needs to be done at all, I would expect a lower charge which would then increase the number of people to pay the price.
    I live in Washington DC and have the privilege of great museums here with no admission fees. I went to L.A. some years ago and was not expecting admission fees at the museums there. Rude awakening to the rest of the world!

  16. The costs incurred by the museum to have the painting there must be outrageous in order for the museum to feel justified in charging the $17 fee. If that’s the case, then perhaps the museum shouldn’t have arranged for the exhibit, because it doesn’t seem (based on every response posted here) that they will even come close to breaking even. If, on the other hand, they are tying to make up for other income shortfalls, they are really shooting themselves in the foot as the people who do pay the fee are probably far less likely to crack open their wallet for any sort of real donation after already being so charged. To answer the original question, no, I wouldn’t pay that to see one painting ( at least not that particular one).

  17. It was like Christmas walking into museums in England and Scotland and not being charged admission! You end up wanting to donate something for all the gifts you just received.

    I do have membership in my local and city museums but,to be required to pay yet another fee, in addition to parking and membership just to have a look at one work would definitely backfire. Ever hear of a tipping point? One day we may find that we’ll be paying by the minute as we enter our museums.

  18. I agree with above comments about this practice reinforcing the idea that good art is only for the elite. I can see a possible justification if there were extraordinary additional costs in bringing the painting to the Museum, but (a) that’s what major donors are for and (b) without explanation $17 seems steep even for cost-covering. Right now when everyone is curtailing spending, this shows poor judgment and is insulting to the museum’s patrons.

  19. I live in Portland and will not be attending this exhibit. I agree with all of the statements above and the only exception would be if the fee were a fundraiser for a worth while charity.

  20. My thanks to Norine Kevolic (immediately above) for making the point about galleries/museums here in the UK … it’s not always the case – galleries started to (have to) introduce admission charges largely in the lates 70s/early 80s for special exhibitions – a direct result of Mrs Thatcher and her hatred of the arts. The ethos of free art for all clings on stubbornly in spite of her legacy here. It’s a separarate debate really – however this afternoon I sat in front (for at least the tenth time) of a beautiful Patrick Heron abstract here in Plymouth, colours pulsating – and it cost me nothing (apart from a minor % of my local taxes paid annually). To me – the answer is simple – doesn’t matter how much you want to see a painting/a show etc – if it’s too much – just boycott it. Or – go and see some contemporary art for free – there’s loads about.

  21. Not to me. I think they will accomplish one of two things (besides the publicity). First: they will gain some revenue – enough to cover expenses? Who knows. Second: they will effectively close-out the less financially able from enjoying the experience. This seems like an attempt to further define seperate classes in a country that is meant to be (if rhetoric is to be believed) rather more egalitarian that that.

    Someone else may find the price worthy, but I do not. For that I want dinner and possibly my laundry folded. 😉

  22. The Whitney Gallery of Art (Part of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY) got Moran’s later Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on loan from the Smithsonian. The painting is 9 by 14 FEET! I believe it cost at least $100,000 to prepare for moving, transport, ship, insure and install (and later go back). They raised all the money for this with private donations.

  23. I’m constantly reminded by my 23yo daughter that my pricing nerve lives in 1968. With that in mind, $12 museum admission is really $1.95, and $17 extra is really $2.76, making a total of $4.71 in 1968 dollars. (worth $6.15 each today)

    The combined price is close to 1% of median personal gross monthly income (2006=$2700)

    I would expect that the surcharge would automatically filter out many viewers and would allow a more leisurely examination of the painting, without more effort from the museum. It’s possible that regular visitation will increase, even though many of the additional visitors will probably not pay the surcharge.

    For myself, I wouldn’t pay extra to see this painting, but I would to see Picasso’s “Guernica.”

  24. It does seem to emphasize the financial problems that museums must be experiencing to bring “new” work to their audiences. And it does seem that people with limited means are going to get squeezed out – which doesn’t feel right at all.

    I’m in the tea party/lecture camp – charge $35 for people who want something more than just a walkby.

  25. The museum’s endowment is probably down and this is a way to bring in funds. And yes, the costs of getting the painting here (and later returning it) are huge. However, I agree with what most others have said here. They simply haven’t offered enough.

    The Whitney Gallery of Art (part of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY) celebrated its 50th by doing a major renovation of the museum and keynoting the reopening with a display of Moran’s second “Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone”. This painting is 9 by 14 feet. This is on loan from the Smithsonian and, if I remember correctly, the costs associated with getting and returning it are over $100,000. These as well as all the Whitney renovation costs were covered with private donations.

  26. If you’d just take the time to follow the link, a lot of your questions would be answered. Museum members also get a free showing in addition to children under 17.

    From the website: “To ensure an optimal viewing experience, The Woman with a Veil will be displayed in a gallery with no more than 25 people allowed access at any given time. Text panels, audio and video presentations, and public programs will provide insight into Renaissance art, portraiture, and the artist. A publication will accompany the exhibition…Tickets are timed for entry every 30 minutes.”

    Having just been to an exhibit at this museum, I can attest to the quality of their presentations. Would I pay that much extra for this one painting under these conditions? I think it is a personal thing – to some this painting would not be that important. To some art students or painters, maybe this is indeed an opportunity of a lifetime worth the $17. I don’t think I can find fault with the museum for setting this up this way. These are hard times calling for innovative approaches to keep art of all kinds available to the public.

  27. You’d be better served by taking the $17 and spending it on art supplies or putting it toward an Alyson Stanfield seminar. I’ve never understood the desire or need to see a specific work of art in person, anyway. I mean the kind of desire to stand in line for hours, to pay a fee, just to be in the presence of what critics or historians presently deem an “important” work – unless, of course, you are studying the work prior to copying it. We are surrounded by beauty and numerous acts of creation. Inspiration is everywhere. Take the $17 and go for lunch at a local cafe. Take your sketchbook. Draw.

  28. Can you imagine how long the wait would be to see this work? If everybody had to pay that amount just to see one piece of art, they would all want to just stand there for as long as possible just to get their money’s worth!

  29. Pingback: Paying extra for viewing a single masterpiece — Art Biz Blog

  30. The Mona Lisa was in the USA and at my art museum (I called the museum, mine– I took children’s art classes there). There was a small fee to see Mona and she was only on view for one weekend. The crowd around the painting was so tight a small child could not squeeze in–I tried. As an adult I visited Paris and made a point of finally getting a look at the Mona Lisa.

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